Wigtown Book Festival

Louis and Ilone

Wigtown Book Town is currently running its annual book festival. Wigtown, a small market town situated in the south west of Scotland, is not the easiest place to reach from Central Scotland, so when a friend invited me there for the weekend, I was delighted. I went a bit mad buying tickets online. I booked five shows back to back during the day on Saturday and The National Theatre of Scotland performance in the evening. On Sunday I was committed to only one show, because I wanted to give myself time to soak up the atmosphere of my surroundings and to visit the towns many book shops.

The programme is diverse this year, with a theme of peace and unity. The festival was opened by Ireland’s first minister Ian Paisley. This, the organiser said, was to show Wigtown’s close links with their neighbours across the sea. The town is closer to Belfast than it is to Glasgow.

The highlights from the weekend for me were;

Robert Crawford, poet and Professor of Literature at St Andrew’s University treated his audience to an entertaining and witty tour through his impressive book ‘Scotland’s Books – The Penguin History of Scottish Literature’. His style was relaxed and honest, and he proved to be resilient when, stepping back from the podium, he fell backwards into the back of the stage. This unflappable academic, picked himself up, checked his glasses weren’t broken and resumed his presentation after warning his audience that if anyone saw him crawling about back stage later not to worry, he would only be looking for his money.

The National Theatre of Scotland Production of Molly Sweeney was staged in the nearby Bladnoch Distillery. The venue was intimate and the set simple but effective. The play, about a blind woman helped to regain her sight, was performed under what looked like a shattered mirror with lethal shards hanging from wires just above the actors’ heads. The tension of ‘that will have someone’s eye out’ was sustained throughout the whole performance. The three actors, Cara Kelly, Oengus MacNamara and Michael Glenn Murphy, played their intense parts with great skill. There were a number of long, powerful, soliloquies which must have required immense concentration. If I have one criticism it is that the play was around half an hour too long. I felt many of the scenes could have been shortened without damage to the story.

The best of the fest for me was Sunday’s performance (see photo). Louis de Bernières and Ilone Antonius-Jones, thrilled the audience with an hour of jokes, poetry readings and medieval music played on a vast array of instruments that Louis had collected and saved from obscurity. Ilone handed weird and wonderful percussion implements out to the reticent audience, but the performers’ easy manner soon had the hall reeling along to a Turkish folk song and a Greek melody Louis picked up while in Kefalonia.

Ilone twinkled with mischief as she declared what fun ‘one’ can have after writing a book.
‘Eight books’ Louis replied through gritted teeth. It was evident Ilone was the true musician of the pair, but Louis could be forgiven his many mistakes for the pleasure he gave with his sparkle and funny facial expression of concentration during some very tricky playing. The man is Captain Corelli in disguise.

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